House Democrats are floating a legislative deal linking the thorny Confederate flag debate with expanded voting rights. Republican leaders last week were forced to scrap a vote on an Interior Department spending bill — and suspend their appropriations schedule indefinitely — over a partisan disagreement about displaying the Confederate flag in national cemeteries. Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
“I’m here to say to you that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus are willing to sit down with the Speaker and work out a way for us to allow the proper display and utilization of … the flag in certain instances if he would only sit down with us and work out an appropriate addressing of the amendments to the Voting Rights Act,” Clyburn said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
“We believe that there’s a proper place for all of us to honor our heritage, and nothing is more of a heritage to African-Americans than the right to vote.”
The Democrats have been pushing a VRA update unsuccessfully for two years. With their new strategy, they’re hoping the high-profile controversy surrounding the Confederate flag — which has only deepened since last month’s racially charged killing of nine parishioners at an historic black church in Charleston, S.C. — will give them leverage in that fight.